We’re nearing on Halloween, and while Australia isn’t a country that gets into the spirit of the holiday like the U.S.A does, it’s as good excuse as any to delve into some scary movies. Horror isn’t a genre I’ve spent a lot of time in – partly because a lot of the films I have watched haven’t done that much for me. But this Halloween I wanted to embrace the fear and watch a couple, and in the process rate them on how effective they are in two catagories: Creep Factor, which weighs up the mood and atmosphere, and Scare Factor, which is all about being afraid.
And thanks to SBS, I didn’t have to spend any money! SBS On Demand have plenty of horror movies on tap, which also means that for any Australians reading this you can try them out for yourself (those outside of Aus may have to try their luck elsewhere. They might be on Netflix?). From their collection I chose two, based strictly off of their blurb and covers, and proceeded to watch them under optimal conditions – late at night, lights off and headphones on for maximum immersion. And while the odd add break meant there was some brief relief from the movie’s world, thankfully the ads are few and far between and were never placed in points where the tension was properly building.
So how badly did I get scared? Find out below…
One Missed Call (2003)
A J-Horror by acclaimed director Takashi Miike, the man behind Ichi the Killer. One Missed Call definitely draws some inspiration from The Ring: a series of college students receive a phone call from a few days into the future recording the moment of their death. After a couple of deaths to set the scene, the tension really picks up. There’s a couple of scenes here which are genuinely engaging, drawing you in as these scenes build to their climax. The ending is fairly abstract, which is unsurprising given the director. I found myself questioning what the hell just happened when the credits hit, but there are enough plot threads to put together a couple of theories. It’s certainly not a movie for someone who likes their endings to be tied together in a little bow though.
The acting and special effects here are also commendable for the most part. There is some effective imagery but it’s never overloaded, which never numbs you to the next key moment. Jump scares are also more or less absent here, so any fear is earned. That being said, the movie never jumps beyond unsettling. Part of this comes from the restriction of the story concept in of itself, since you know what the scene needs to lead to, but it never felt like it was going for outright scares beyond a small moment here or there.
The pacing of the story is well handled, and you’re fed enough information to start trying to piece everything together without ever making the solution easy. There are also some small moments or comments that seem unimportant at first that actually have payoffs. And finally it’s worth mentioning the sound direction. One thing that Japanese horror movies do better than anywhere else is building tension through sound.
There’s also an American remake, with the impressive Rotten Tomatoes score of 0%. So take that Dawn of Justice…
Creep Factor – Moderate
Scare Factor – Low
A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)
Based off of an old Josean Dynasty era folk tale, this Korean horror film tells the story – unsurprisingly – of two sisters: Su-Mi and Su-Jeon. At the core of the conflict is their broken relationship with their stepmother Eun-Joo, leaving the audience to piece together the actual reality behind this family drama.
Even by horror movie standards the story moves quite slowly to begin. You’re not given a whole lot to work with beyond some incredibly frosty family conversations, but even during this slow build there is an unnerving tension that helps set the scene. Once the story begins to stretch its legs is when this movie really starts to get its creep on. There aren’t many horror movies that have made the hairs on my arm stand on end, but A Tale of Two Sisters achieved this, leaving me in a heightened state for most of the movie.
The audio work here is absolutely stellar, and I’d definitely recommend watching this with either headphones or a strong sound system. There are plenty of low key noise effects which add to the tension, and others which alone can put you on the edge of your seat. There is one scene in particular, a little beyond the half way point, that is challenging to watch purely because it is executed brilliantly. The sound, visual direction and acting all combine to create something that is almost too uncomfortable to watch, but manages to achieve exactly what it was after.
This is coupled with some impressive acting work across the board. Yum Jung-ah is downright terrifying at times as the stepmother, be it from her death glares or unsettling manner of speaking. The two sisters, played by Im Soo-Jung and Moon Geung-Young, have magnificent chemistry together, and sell everything perfectly with their pinpoint facial expressions. These three kind of overshadow Kim Kap-Soo’s work as the weary and broken father, but he plays his role well and gets a few moments of his own to shine. Everyone combines to ensure the scope of this movie’s horror is as high as it could be.
There’s not a lot that I can say about A Tale of Two Sisters without delving too far into the plot, which is best left untouched for potential new audiences. It’s not an easy watch, especially given there are some twists that, while logical within the context of the story, can take you out for a moment as you comprehend it all. But if you’re looking for a deeply challenging slow burn psychological horror movie, A Tale of Two Sisters is one to put on your list.
Creep Factor – Pretty damn high
Scare Factor – Moderately high